Beginning – the UK run

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IMG_20150411_170451Beginning was part of the Larparama mini larp festival in Lewes this weekend past.

Beginning is a larp by Danish artist Nina Runa Essendrop. The concept is that up to 12 blindfolded players are creatures being born and evolving in an unknown environment, which they explore over the course of 90 minutes. The experience is rich and varied and accompanied by a lush soundtrack. Periodically, there is a thunderstorm and the creatures stop to make noises and sing in the rain.

Nina is particularly known in Nordic Larp circles for developing embodied, wordless larps with themes of innocence, childhood and transcendence.  I’ve played two of her other larps, White Death (in Ireland) and Innocence (at Black Box Copenhagen in November), but Beginning was my personal favourite, as I’ll explain at the end.

Changes

After consulting with Nina we decided to make some changes. Firstly, when I played it some female participants felt uncomfortable with the element of touch, and we added a section to the workshop around safe touch and exploring how to communicate YES/NO/MAYBE without words.

Secondly, it seemed to me that the larp could be developed and deepened by adding the possibility of mating to the third act. If a creature mated it would receive a piece of clay, and could fashion an egg. The creatures are born alone in this world, and so the question would be how to communicate important things to one’s offspring. We also made clear that not having an egg would mean getting to explore the world further as it changes, and so there was a choice to make.

IMG_20150411_161332We also made some changes to the soundtrack, partly due to not having all of the music available and partly due to personal taste. Our version modelled the five acts on the 5 Rhythms of Gabrielle Roth – flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness.  This is not the model for the original music, so far as I know, but I thought it would be interesting to explore this. Mating could take place during the ‘chaos’ part of the game. After that was the lighter, ‘lyrical’ section, and players commented that they did feel much more relaxed and able to play once the mating ‘season’ was at an end.

The Venue

We had an amazing gift in our venue, the Cafe des Artistes in Lewes, which featured an infinity studio. This meant that the creatures were very safe in the space, and also that the visual impact for the workshop and (for we spectators) during the larp was quite stunning.

Reflections

The pre-game workshop was, in my judgement, a big success.  I was very glad that we’d added the touch element to the workshop, because in such a tactile larp it’s absolutely vital that all of the players get used to the idea that they can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘maybe’.  A useful lesson in life, as in larp.

The larp itself was an absolute joy to witness. At times we Guardians would spontaneously join in with the play, dancing about the space with the creatures. Taking photographs (for which we’d sought permission before) felt difficult at times, although the visual spectacle was so beautiful that it became difficult to resist. I’m glad, now, that we did document it in this way.

The mating experiment was interesting and, perhaps, worked well overall. Our fear was that everyone would mate, but in fact that didn’t happen. Like pandas, our creatures were shy by nature and only two completed the mating (which was a symbolic exchange of bracelets). With hindsight, we would have been better to put the ‘nursery’ at the opposite end, away from the music, as the parent-creatures had a very introspective fourth act.

Here’s some feedback from one player, Andrew:

This was an amazing thing to do and to undergo. I’m really glad that I chose this game. It was beautiful, gentle, enlightening, and fun. There were moments of genuine (at one point, quite intense) emotion. There was a real feeling of connection to others, but without certain aspects of identity and indentification that we usually take for granted.

I’d like to thank everyone involved for giving me this lovely adventure.

And I’d like to thank my co-organisers of Larparama, Adam James and Keane; my fellow Guardians, Annabelle and Anna; and the players who put so much into their play.

Why I wanted to run Beginning

When I played it last year in Sweden at the Knutepunkt Nordic Larp conference, I was profoundly moved by the experience of being born into a world as an innocent, naive creature, and by the realization that this creature would have some of its hopes dashed by an unfeeling world. I cried for the first 5-10 minutes of the game, which was the most cathartic cry I’ve ever had!

This song sums it up for me:

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One thought on “Beginning – the UK run

  1. And here’s some more feedback, from Cat Tobin:

    “Yes, I do appreciate it’s #TableTopDay, and not #NordicLarpDay, but when life throws you larps, you have to make larp…enade. [That didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.] Today, I travelled to the lovely town of Lewes, famous (to me, now) for calling its little lanes “twittens”. It was to play a game I’ve wanted to play since I first heard of it; the Nordic larp “Beginning”. Written by physical larp visionary Nina Runa Essendrop and Simon Steen Hansen , “Beginning” is a non-verbal larp in which you play through the life cycle of strange, blind creatures.

    “It is broken into five parts: birth and childhood, where you first awake, explore your creature’s body and what your physicality entails; adolescence, where you move around in the space, discover there are other creatures there, and start to interact with them; adulthood, where you are fully mobile and interactive, and you can mate with other creatures (in our game, this was represented by exchanging the bracelets we each wore); parenthood (or not), where if you had mated with another creature, you were given a piece of clay to mould into your egg, and you then interacted exclusively with your egg in a separate space; or, if you hadn’t mated, you continued to explore your environment, which had been enhanced with tactile stimuli; and then finally death, where we all lay down still on the floor.

    “I found it to be very powerful. Wearing a blindfold for the whole game means that your sole stimulation is through touching other people. When I wasn’t, I felt incredibly vulnerable, and lonely in a way I don’t usually feel. The workshopping beforehand (leading and being led by, and then practising different touches with, a partner) helped to break down any reservations we had about touching, and being touched. Music is played during the five parts, which are separated by thunderstorms; during these, we were encouraged to vocalise (non-verbally) our character’s feeling at that point, which resulted in a beautiful soundscape of creature noises.

    “At one point during the adulthood phase, my creature came very close to mating with another, before we eventually broke apart from our dance. I felt the separation and non-mating keenly, and went on to dance with others, without quite the same enthusiasm. Still, I was quite shocked by how melancholy at the loss of my opportunity to mate made me in the adulthood phase (another player, in the debrief, commented on how much less we all touched each other once we could no longer mate). Not even our newly-enhanced environment (featuring food, things-that-made-noise, and things-that-felt-nice) could take my mind off it, and I was almost relieved when the thunderstorm announced death.

    “All in all, it was a trusting, beautiful, erotic, innocent, and educational, experience, and well worth travelling through the twittens of lovely Lewes for.”

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